Lawrentians and community members squeezed into a packed Riverview Lounge last Sunday to see Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold speak as part of his reelection campaign and also to support the Kerry-Edwards ticket. The senator spoke for about 40 minutes on education, health care, job losses, and the international situation, and also made additional comments in an interview with The Lawrentian following the event.Supporters greeted the senator with signs, stickers, buttons, and chants of “Wisconsin needs Russ!” After thanking the LU College Democrats and community volunteers for setting up the event, Feingold stated that this upcoming election was of the greatest importance, and that it would be “a key determinant of your future.”
The senator’s speech was tailored for the primarily college-aged crowd. “The power of the young people will win this election for John Kerry,” he began, and then focused on the major political issues that are affecting younger voters. Feingold noted the high cost of college today, and called financial barriers to a college education “a denial of the American dream.” He vowed to fight for an increase in Federal Pell Grants and to focus on the reality of financing college education.
Feingold also addressed the health care system. The senator derided the “lack of progress” in dealing with health care problems, and said that rising insurance rates were “crushing our economy,” and hurting families, young people, and businesses. He strongly advocated universal, guaranteed health care for all Americans, and attacked his opponent, Republican Tim Michaels, for his comment that “anyone who needs health care can get it.”
On job losses, Feingold said that Wisconsin workers were suffering because of unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, which encouraged both parties to adopt insufficient policies, and because of outsourcing. While not against free trade, he noted that more needed to be done to protect American workers, and to ensure that the human rights of workers overseas – particularly those in China – were protected.
On the international situation, Feingold said, “We need to get the fight on terrorism right,” and attacked the Bush administration for attacking Iraq. The senator, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the information he reviewed from the State Department and CIA briefings before the Iraq war indicated that the al Qaeda terrorist network was not operating in Iraq. He remarked that the Iraq war was “not our priority in the fight against terrorism,” and that that was specifically why he voted against it.
Feingold also addressed the USA PATRIOT Act. He said that he would fight against attempts to make the provisions of the act permanent, and also derided the act for some of its provisions, stating, “I do not believe that the place to start working on [the problem of terrorism] is by looking at library records at the Appleton library.” He said that the act violated our civil liberties, and he challenged supporters of the act by asking, “If you’re concerned with fighting for our freedom overseas, shouldn’t you be concerned with our freedoms here at home?” The senator said that he is working to pass legislation to amend the act in order to protect civil liberties.
He finished his speech by talking about the presidential race. He said that he felt strongly that the country is in need of a new president, but that, “Whoever wins, I will try to get things back to where they were before the Iraq war.” He closed by asking the crowd for their votes, their work, and their enthusiasm during the last month of the campaign.
In an interview with The Lawrentian following the event, Feingold answered further questions about health care, campaign finance reform, and international politics.
On the issue of campaign finance reform, the senator noted the progress that the McCain-Feingold Act had made but also said that more needed to be done: while unlimited individual campaign contributions and expensive stays in the Lincoln Bedroom are now illegal, Feingold said that both he and Senator McCain will be sponsoring new legislation that will eliminate the Federal Election Commission and compel 527s to follow campaign rules.
On the international situation in Iran and North Korea, the senator stated that the possession or development of nuclear weapons in both nations was the result of misusing our military resources, and that this has also adversely affected our ability to negotiate effectively with both nations.
“Why focus on Iraq,” he asked, “when Iran has an established relationship with al Qaeda?” Iran kept Iraq in check, he noted, but “now we’ve turned Iraq into a basket case.” Feingold also said that heavy international pressure is needed to make progress with Iran. With regard to North Korea, Feingold disagreed with President Bush and said that the United States should pursue both bilateral and multilateral negotiations with the North.
He reiterated his support for universal health care, and stated that the government was already paying for it, but inefficiently. Since the uninsured already go to hospitals even if they cannot pay, the government is already covering the bill.
On the issue of the USA PATRIOT Act, the senator noted that both conservatives and liberals were upset with its provisions, and said he would oppose Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl’s move to make certain provisions of the act permanent.
Feingold was first elected to the Senate in 1992 after serving 10 years in the Wisconsin Senate. He is currently running for his third term against the Republican challenger, Tim Michaels.